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To investigate the effectiveness of self-directed arm interventions in adult stroke survivors.A systematic review of Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, SCOPUS and IEEE Xplore up to February 2018 was carried out. Studies of stroke arm interventions were included where more than 50% of the time spent in therapy was initiated and carried out by the participant. Quality of the evidence was assessed using the Cochrane risk of bias tool.A total of 40 studies (n = 1172 participants) were included (19 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 21 before–after studies). Studies were grouped according to no technology or the main additional technology used (no technology n = 5; interactive gaming n = 6; electrical stimulation n = 11; constraint-induced movement therapy n = 6; robotic and dynamic orthotic devices n = 8; mirror therapy n = 1; telerehabilitation n = 2; wearable devices n = 1). A beneficial effect on arm function was found for self-directed interventions using constraint-induced movement therapy (n = 105; standardized mean difference (SMD) 0.39, 95% confidence interval (CI) −0.00 to 0.78) and electrical stimulation (n = 94; SMD 0.50, 95% CI 0.08–0.91). Constraint-induced movement therapy and therapy programmes without technology improved independence in activities of daily living. Sensitivity analysis demonstrated arm function benefit for patients >12 months poststroke (n = 145; SMD 0.52, 95% CI 0.21–0.82) but not at 0–3, 3–6 or 6–12 months.Self-directed interventions can enhance arm recovery after stroke but the effect varies according to the approach used and timing. There were benefits identified from self-directed delivery of constraint-induced movement therapy, electrical stimulation and therapy programmes that increase practice without using additional technology.